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May 10

The Comfort Productivity Connection

What pops into your mind when you think "comfort"? Maybe you imagine curling up on the sofa with a thick blanket while watching TV or lounging in a hammock on a tropical island. We usually associate comfort with relaxation, but physical comfort in the workplace is the cornerstone of productivity. Spaces that are uncomfortable because they are too hot, too cold, too noisy, too dark, or too bright restrict the ability of workers to perform to their full potential.

Comfort as a Basic Need

Dr. Jacqueline Vischer, a professor in the Department of Environmental Design at the University of Montreal, created a model for work environments that ranks comfort into an ascending continuum of the physical, functional, and psychological. Like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, it argues that before people can strive for psychological needs, basic physiological needs must be satisfied first. Vischer's model suggests that addressing physical comfort—like the quality of light, air, temperature, sound, and ergonomics—has the greatest immediate and direct impact on productivity.

It's not surprising that in a 2015 Leesman survey of nearly 136,000 respondents, the top 3 features identified as the most important part of an effective workspace were all directly related to physical comfort: desk, chair, and temperature control. Before a company starts thinking about what team someone will join or what type of computer they'll have, they need to ensure that their employees have a safe, comfortable place to work.

Office workers are losing 86 minutes a day due to distractions. That's about 1.5 hours of productivity lost every day.

Eliminating Distractions

A 2014 IPSOS and Steelcase survey of more than 10,000 workers found that office workers are losing 86 minutes a day due to distractions. That's about 1.5 hours of productivity lost every day. The comfort-distraction problem is twofold. First, if you are uncomfortable, you are too busy thinking about your discomfort to focus on the task at hand. Second, if you are really uncomfortable, you may start wasting time on behaviors to cope with your discomfort.

Think about the last time you were too hot or too cold at your desk: Maybe you left your desk to go for a walk; got up for a drink; complained to co-workers (effectively spreading your distraction to other people); tried to track down the facility manager; or tried to make your own make-shift solution. If only you had been empowered to have some degree of control over your physical environment and an easy way to achieve comfort.

Personal Control Helps Productivity

Numerous studies have measured the productivity gains achieved when employees have greater personal control over their comfort. Experimental research conducted over the last 30 years has found anywhere between a 2.7% to a 8.6% increase in productivity. Research includes studies that are not only based on self-reported surveys, but ones that measured actual productivity increases when workers moved from a baseline building to a new building offering personal control of lighting, air ventilation, and other ambient systems. Everything from clerical tasks to tasks that require logical thinking and skilled manual work to very rapid manual work increased with personal control.

Workplace Comfort for Increased Productivity

In the workplace, comfort levels don’t necessarily represent a state of relaxation, they reflect a state free from pain and poised for optimal productivity. A space that is slightly “uncomfortable” can keep people more alert, because it's not about discomfort, it's about breaking up a neutral comfort state. Slight variations in the ambient environment can become levers for productivity.

A 2000 review of experimental research on green buildings and occupant productivity published by Dr. Judith H. Heerwagen, who is currently a Program Expert at GSA's Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings, notes that a static comfort state does not always lead to the highest performance outcomes. In fact, there are times when being cooler or warmer rather than in a neutral comfort state may enhance performance. For instance, studies have shown that slightly warm temperatures reduce anxiety and may generate a feeling of wakeful relaxation—an emotional state associated with creative problem solving. (This would explain our design team’s productive brainstorming sessions in the warm, sunny corner of the office!) The complexity of workplace comfort and productivity underscores the need for variety and personal control.

We ask ourselves: What would a space look and feel like if it was truly designed to help everyone do their best work?

The Comfy Team is obsessed with creating the ultimate productive workplace. We ask ourselves: What would a space look and feel like if it was truly designed to help everyone do their best work? What does it mean to create a place that makes you feel psychologically, socially, and physically comfortable? The first step in creating a productive and delightful space—one workplace designers would refer to as a "congenial environment"—is eliminating the negatives that are holding people back. By delivering comfort, eliminating distractions, and offering greater individual control, we are able to help everyone be their most productive selves.

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